LOS ANGELES: Karl-Anthony Towns scored 34 points and pulled down 12 rebounds as the Minnesota Timberwolves cooled off the red-hot Portland Trail Blazers with a 110-109 NBA victory on Monday (Tuesday in Manila).
Portland’s Damian Lillard had a solid look at what would have been a game-winning shot, but his jumper lipped out at the buzzer and the Blazers’ six-game winning streak came to an end.
At 38-39, Portland are clinging to the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, 1 1/2 games ahead of the Denver Nuggets.
They play their next three games against playoff-bound teams.
Monday’s contest—the only NBA game of the day—was a makeup game of one that was postponed on March 6 because condensation on the court made it unsafe.
Portland led by as many as 12 points in the third quarter before the Timberwolves stormed back to seize a three-point lead going into the final period.
A 7-0 scoring run briefly put the Trail Blazers back on top.
Towns hit a big one-handed basket with 57.3 seconds remaining to give the Timberwolves a five-point lead.
He capped his night with a two-handed dunk over Al-Farouq Aminu to give Minnesota a 110-106 lead with 35 seconds to play.
A shot from Andrew Wiggins, who scored 29 points for Minnesota, went out of bounds with 4.9 seconds to play to give Portland one last chance.
Lillard, the Western Conference player of the month for March, couldn’t make it and Portland lost for the first time since March 21.
“You just want to win this game,” Lillard said. “We’ve been on a roll. Coming in against a team that doesn’t really have anything to play for, you want to come in here and take advantage of that.”
While it’s true the Timberwolves are out of the running for this year’s playoffs, Towns said the young team had plenty to play for.
“I think we’re building something,” he said. “Regardless of what our record is, we’ve got to go out there and play basketball the right way. … Every game, every second, every practice, every workout is valuable to building a championship team, and that’s how we need to look at it.”
Warriors could have Durant back at weekend
The Golden State Warriors, riding an 11-game NBA winning streak, could soon have another weapon at their disposal with star forward Kevin Durant nearing a return from injury.
ESPN reported that Durant, who suffered a sprain and bone bruise in his left knee on February 28, could return on Saturday when the Warriors host the New Orleans Pelicans.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr confirmed on Sunday, prior the his team’s blowout win over the Washington Wizards, that Durant would miss the team’s first two games this week, against Minnesota on Tuesday and at Phoenix on Wednesday.
“Hopefully we can get him in for a couple of regular-season games,” Kerr told reporters.
Kerr scoffed at the suggestion that the return of Durant, the 2014 NBA Most Valuable Player acquired in July to great fanfare after he played out his contract with Oklahoma City, could prove disruptive to a team on a roll.
“I may not play him,” Kerr said with dripping sarcasm. “We’re so much better without him … maybe bring him off the bench and play him spot minutes depending on matchups.”
Seriously, Kerr said, “I can tell you I’m going to start him. When he comes back and the training staff says he’s ready, we’re going to put him in the starting lineup.”
Kerr said Durant would play “in shorter bursts” as the team monitors his fitness.
Warriors stars Stephen Curry and Draymond Green have also poured cold water on the theory that Durant could somehow disrupt the rhythm the team has developed in his absence.
“He’ll fit right in,” Green said. “But we don’t need him to fit in. He wasn’t brought here to fit in. He was brought here to stand out. We don’t need him coming back trying to fit in with what’s going on. We need him to come back and be KD. That’s what he’ll do.”